Wishing you beauty, love, and contemplation for Advent

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In German-speaking countries, people wish each other either a “schönen” (beautiful, pleasant), “lieblichen” (lovely, love-filled), or a “besinnlichen” (thoughtful, contemplative) Advent. I wish you all of that: beauty, love, and contemplation for the next four weeks.

On this first Sunday of Advent, I present to you again the J.S. Bach Foundation (J.S. Bachstiftung) with soprano Núria Rial, this time in Cantata 36 Schwingt freudig euch empor. In 1731, Bach transformed a secular birthday cantata from 1725 into this work for Advent. Enjoy watching these two videos by the J.S. Bach Foundation to get better acquainted with this composition:

Fabulous explanation by Rudolf Lutz of cantata BWV 36 “Schwingt freudig euch empor” (in German with English subtitles)

Video registration of their concert in Trogen, Switzerland, in 2007: J.S. Bach – Cantata BWV 36 “Schwingt freudig euch empor” (J.S. Bach Foundation)

If you would like to read, listen, or watch more, here’s a little overview of my previous posts for the first Sunday of Advent:

In Weimar, in 1714, Bach wrote Cantata 61 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. This one I remember the best from my childhood, because my mother loved Seppi Kronwitter’s singing of the soprano aria on the Harnoncourt recording. Read about it here. More about Bach’s prolific Advent cantata writing in Weimar next week.

In Leipzig, in 1724, Bach wrote Cantata 62 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. My most recent writing about this cantata is from 2020, not for this blog, but for that of California Bach Society. Find it here. My post from 2017 about this cantata is here.

Read my post about Cantata 36 Schwingt freudig euch empor here

Wieneke Gorter, November 28, 2021.

By the way: the video of the J.S. Bach Foundation’s 15th Anniversary concert with Núria Rial is still available here on YouTube. It is a registration of the performance in Trogen, held one day after the one I attended in Basel.

J.S. Bach Foundation with Nuria Rial: video available on YouTube until Friday November 19 at 2:59 pm PST / 5:59 pm EST / 11:59 pm CET

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The church in Trogen, Switzerland, where the 15th anniversary concert of the J.S. Bach Foundation was recorded on Wednesday. Find it here on YouTube, only available until Friday November 19, 2021, at 2:59 pm PST / 5:59 pm EST / 11:59 pm CET.

Nuria Rial in Basel

This week, the J.S. Bach Foundation celebrated 15 years of recording Bach cantatas with a special anniversary program in three cities in Switzerland: Basel, Trogen, and Zürich. I am still pinching myself that I got to attend the concert in Basel on Tuesday November 16, sitting only 6 feet (2 meters) from the amazing soprano Nuria Rial, who sang Cantata 199 Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut and Cantata 202 Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten.

Her performance was everything I had been hoping for and more. Her voice pulls you in from the start, and the energy and joy she exudes are just extraordinary. And then there’s her playfulness. I will never forget how special it was to experience that from up-close. I also realized what a true ensemble member she is, always in contact with the instrumentalists.

Amy Power in Basel

And those instrumentalists really need to be mentioned! Oboist Amy Power’s playing was lyrical throughout, with beautiful ornamentations in the “da capo” parts of the arias. I especially enjoyed the call-and response between her and Nuria Rial in the first movement of Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten. Her accomplishments were even more impressive knowing that she had been summoned from Graz less than 8 days before the concert, when the J.S. Bach Foundation heard that oboist Andreas Helm had to isolate at home because of contracting Covid-19.

First violinist Eva Borhi’s sensitive playing was especially gorgeous in the “Tief gebückt” aria from Canatata 199 and “Schlummert ein” aria from Cantata 82 with Manuel Walser. But my favorite was her interaction with Nuria Rial in the “Wenn die Frühlingslufte streichen” aria from Cantata 202.

Violist Sonoko Asabuki had an exquisite solo in the Chorale “Ich, dein betrübtes Kind” from Cantata 199, and cellist Daniel Rosin did a great illustration of Phoebus’ speeding horses in the third movement of Cantata 202, which earned a “Bravo” cheer from the audience, as if we were at the opera. (Always better than the audience member who fell asleep during “Schlummert ein,” snoring and all, a few rows behind me).

Last but not least, Rudolf Lutz, who directed the others from the harpsichord, improvised tasteful and effective mini-preludes leading up to the recitatives in Cantata 199, and very sensitively employed the lute register in the da capo of “Schlummert ein,” which formed a beautiful accompaniment to the pianissimo playing strings. He was also his usual witty self, making audience and performers laugh with his short speeches. My sister mentioned that even though we were here together at the concert because of our mother, she was actually strongly reminded of our grandfather. Also a man who always appeared very proper and Calvinist, but would then surprise you with his terrific sense of humor.

There’s a few hours left to watch the video recording that was made at the concert in Trogen, until Friday November 19 at 2:59 pm PST / 5:59 pm EST / 11:59 pm CET. Find it here on YouTube.

Wieneke Gorter, November 19, 2021.

Nuria Rial singing Cantata 202: why this is special to me

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Nuria Rial

Today is an exciting day for me, because I get to see and hear Nuria Rial sing live for the first time in my life, performing a piece I have very fond childhood memories of. I also get to hug my sister for the first time in more than two years, and I get to explore the gorgeous city of Basel. It is a special week for my sister and me, since this coming Friday is the 11th anniversary of our mother’s death.

To remember our late mother and her love of music, every year my sister and I have tried to go to a concert together. Because I used to live in California and my sister lives in France, and we both have kids, it would not work out every year, but we’ve had some memorable experiences. In March 2013 we attended Bach’s St. Matthew Passion by Herreweghe in Cuenca, Spain, during Holy Week, which in Spain comes with processions in the streets. In November 2015 we went to Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers by Savall in the then brand-new Philharmonie de Paris, only a few days after the terrorist attacks. The last time we went to a concert together was in January 2018.

When the J.S. Bach Foundation announced their 15th anniversary concerts with Nuria Rial in Cantata 202, my choice for this year was made. I’m so grateful this is all working out and I am so excited I already woke up at 5 am this morning, as if I’m an elementary school kid, going on a field trip.

About that elementary school kid. One of my strongest childhood memories is of the time my sister and I accompanied my mother when she had to go sing at a wedding. It must have been late 1970s/early 1980s. The couple were both elementary school teachers, so they got married on a Wednesday afternoon, to make it possible for their students to attend their wedding as well. I remember absolutely nothing about all the other kids that must have been there that day. I only remember waiting for the bus, sitting on the floor of the organ loft, and hearing the music. Read more in this in this post, where you can also hear an example of the piece my mother sang that afternoon: the “Gavotte” from Cantata 202.

I have always wanted to visit Basel. It’s the place of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, where so many of the Baroque musicians I admire received their training. But I also heard many stories about all the great art museums, the historic city, and how beautifully it is situated on the Rhine. When we returned from our trip to Italy in 2018, we had a wonderful stop-over with a dear friend near Basel, but all we got to see of the city were the two railway stations.

I first heard Nuria Rial sing on the German radio station WDR3, exactly one month after my mother passed away in 2010. I was staying at my parents’ house in the Netherlands with my kids. My mother had always preferred the German classical music station over the Dutch one, especially for their Early music programming, so WDR3 was pre-programmed into my parents’ fancy equipment. I heard Nuria Rial sing and she literally took my breath away. After it was over I went on Facebook and told all my singer friends (that’s why I still know what day it was). To get an idea, watch her live recording of the soprano aria from Cantata 36 with the J.S. Bach Foundation. I know I already said it, but tonight is the first time I’m going to hear and see her live.

It will also be the first time I’m going to see the J.S. Bach Foundation (Bachstiftung) perform live, after having been a fan of theirs for several years now, and having shared many of their videos on my blog. Read my last post about them (and another favorite soprano) here. I feel honored I get to celebrate their 15th Anniversary with them tonight.

There really is nothing like a live performance. But if you can’t make it to Switzerland this week, you can still watch this same concert 🙂 Tomorrow, Wednesday November 17, this same program will be live-streamed from Trogen, Switzerland, at 7 pm Central European Time, which is 10 am Pacific Time, 1 pm Eastern Time, or 6 pm in the UK. For more information on the live-stream, and to download the program booklet, click here. Direct links to the live stream are here, or on the YouTube channel of the J.S. Bach Foundation.

Wieneke Gorter, November 16, 2021.

Dorothee Mields in the spotlight – Third Sunday after Trinity

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As far as we know, Bach wrote two cantatas for this Sunday, the third after Trinity: Cantata 21 Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis and Cantata 135 Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder.

Read my post from 2017 about Cantata 135 here. Since I wrote that post, a beautiful live video recording by the J.S. Bach Foundation has been released on YouTube. Find it here.

But now about Cantata 21. It is one of Bach’s most well-known cantatas and it gets programmed often because it features several exciting choruses. The version most of us know is with three soloists: a soprano, a tenor, and a bass. Bach first wrote it like that in Weimar and later performed a similar version in Leipzig in 1723, as part of his first year there. However, in 1720, he created a different version, which he performed in Köthen as well as in Hamburg. It is likely that this version was created for a special soprano soloist (possibly Anna Magdalena?), because in this version, Bach assigns all three tenor solos to the soprano as well, thus featuring the soprano in every solo movement. The bass joins her for two duets.

Dorothee Mields

It turns out that the J.S. Bach Foundation decided to perform this 1720 version for their live video series, with soprano Dorothee Mields and bass Peter Kooij. If I had been at that concert in person, I would have joined the whooping and clapping at the end, because it is an outstanding performance by both soloists but also by the chorus. I only discovered this video recording by accident tonight. I had completely missed it when it was released earlier this month. I meant to write a very short blog post today, quickly giving you some links to previous posts and then go to sleep, but I was completely mesmerized by Dorothee Mields’ singing and was unable to close my computer.

In my post from 2016 about Cantata 21, I show how similar the duet from this cantata is to the duet from Cantata 172 (also written in Weimar). When I watched the J.S. Bach Foundation video of Cantata 21 and witnessed Mields’ art of being in sync with her duet partner, I remembered there’s another wonderful video I have wanted to share. It is Dorothee Mields and Alex Potter singing the duet from Cantata 172 in this video by the Bach Akademie Stuttgart that came out at the end of May. I enjoy very much how sensitive Mields and Potter both are to the music and the text, and how beautifully and naturally their voices move together.

Wieneke Gorter, June 19, 2021.

Second Sunday after Trinity

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For this Sunday, the second after Trinity, Bach wrote Cantata 76 in 1723 and Cantata 2 in 1724.

Read my blog post about Cantata 76, featuring a recording by Gardiner, here.

Read my listening guide for Cantata 2, featuring a fabulous live performance by the J.S. Bach Foundation, here.

Wieneke Gorter, June 12, 2021.

First Sunday after Trinity = new cycle for Bach

For Bach, a new year of writing cantatas in Leipzig always started on this Sunday, the First Sunday after Trinity. If you joined this blog after 2017, you might have missed my following Bach’s cantata compositions in order of the Leipzig performances, starting on this Sunday in 1723 and 1724. Find my post about this Sunday in 1723, which was his Leipzig debut, here. Find my post about the start of the 1724/1725 chorale cantata cycle here.

There is no cantata for this Sunday left to us from 1725. Read more about Bach’s summer of 1725 in my previous post.

Thank you for following this blog!

Wieneke Gorter, June 6, 2021.

Following Bach in 1725 – Trinity Sunday

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The Holy Trinity: Son (Jesus), Father (God), and Holy Ghost (depicted by a pigeon) by Hendrick van Balen the Elder (Flemish), 1620s. Sint-Jacobskerk (St. James’ Church), Antwerp, Begium.

In 2018, I was following Bach’s writing in 1725. My last post that year was about this Sunday, Trinity Sunday. Read that post here.

Judging by the cantatas that are left to us, Bach didn’t write any church cantatas during the months of June and July in 1725. Instead, he performed three cantatas by Telemann that summer:

  • Gelobet sei der Herr, der Gott Israel (TVWV 1:596), on June 24
  • Der Segen des Herrn machet reich ohne Muhe (TVWV 1:310), on July 1
  • Wer sich rachet, an dem wird sich der Herr wider rachen (TVWV 1:1600), on July 8

We don’t know why this happened. There are several possibilities:

  1. Bach was exhausted from the 1725 Easter to Trinity season – read more about this in my previous post
  2. Telemann had begged Bach to bring some of his cantatas to the attention of the Leipzig congregations and Bach’s Leipzig orchestra members. Oh, how we all wish that the correspondence between Bach and Telemann had survived! They were good friends since Bach’s Weimar years. Judging from some of Telemann’s letters that did survive, he could make a good pitch.
  3. Bach thought that after two cycles of cantatas in Leipzig (from Trinity 1723 to Trinity 1725) he had created a sufficient amount of music to be used during church services that he didn’t necessarily need to write a new cantata for each Sunday.

I’ll pick up the 1725 thread on August 1st, the 9th Sunday after Trinity, for which Bach finally picked up his pen again, writing Cantata 168 Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort.

Stay tuned for a discussion of this year’s online version of Bachfest Leipzig: “Bach’s Messiah,” which will take place from June 11 to 15.

Wieneke Gorter, May 30, 2021.

Bach’s busy spring of 1725

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Trade Fair traffic entering Leipzig, 1820s.

If you don’t feel like reading a long blog post and just want to learn about this Sunday’s cantatas, please watch Rudolf Lutz’ wonderful lecture/improvisation from 2020 about Cantata 44 and 183 here. It is in English. Find my blog post about these same cantatas, highlighting completely different aspects of the pieces, here.

We tend to think that Christmas was the busiest time for Bach in Leipzig, writing cantatas for the three (!) Christmas Days, New Year’s Day, Epiphany, AND all the Sundays that fell in between those days. On the holidays, he would often perform the cantatas twice, once in the St. Nicholas Church, and once in the St. Thomas Church.

While working like this for two weeks in a row does sound crazy to us, we can still relate to it, because the Christmas season is often busy for most of us too.

But especially because of this wanting or needing to relate, I think we often forget that there was another period in the year for Bach in Leipzig that was equally busy: the time from Easter to Trinity. It was perhaps not as non-stop as the Christmas season, but it was much longer in time, and more laden with decision-making, so possibly more draining for the composer. We don’t know.

I would like to go back to my posts from the spring of 2018, when I was following Bach’s writing in the spring of 1725. Going forward, this year, I would like to keep following his cantata compositions from 1725. So let’s look at what this possibly exhausting period looked like for Bach in 1725. All the links in this following list refer to my own blog posts from 2018. The Easter Oratorio was rewritten from a previous work, but every single cantata Bach wrote after that was newly composed that year, 1725.

March 30, Good Friday: The second version of the St. John Passion, with a new opening chorus and several new arias.

April 1, Easter Sunday: First performance of the Easter Oratorio as well as a repeat performance of Cantata 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden (written much earlier in his career)

April 2, Easter Monday: Cantata 6 Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden

April 8, First Sunday after Easter: Cantata 42 Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats

April 15, Second Sunday after Easter: Cantata 85 Ich bin ein guter Hirt

April 22, Third Sunday after Easter: Cantata 103 Ihr werdet weinen und heulen

This Third Sunday after Easter, or “Jubilate” Sunday, was also the start of a three-week-long Trade Fair in Leipzig, lasting until Exaudi Sunday (this Sunday). Leipzig had three such events each year (the others were at Michaelmas and at New Year’s). In the 18th century Leipzig had become the centre for trade with Russia, Poland, and England. During the fairs the population of the city would grow to 30,000. Bach did business himself too during these times. He for example timed the publication of his Clavierübung to coincide with these fairs. In addition to that, I imagine that he would have had visitors in his house, and that he was making time to meet with friends and colleagues who were in town during this time.

April 29: Cantata 108 Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe

May 6: Cantata 87 Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten in meinem Namen

May 10, Ascension Day: Cantata 128 Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein

May 13: Exaudi Sunday (this current Sunday): Cantata 183 Sie werden euch in den Bann tun

May 20, Pentecost / Whit Sunday: Cantata 74 Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten

May 21, Pentecost Monday / Whit Monday: Cantata 68 Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt

May 22, Pentecost Tuesday / Whit Tuesday: Cantata 175 Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen

May 27, Trinity Sunday: Cantata 176 Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding

Wieneke Gorter, May 15, 2021

Bach’s Music for Ascension Day

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The Ascension, from the illuminated 15th-century manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 184r – Musée Condé, Chantilly, France.

Today was Ascension Day. In Bach’s time this was a very important holiday in the churches. Many countries in Europe have a four-day weekend starting on this Thursday. I did too as a kid growing up in the Netherlands. But we didn’t go to church on this day, and I don’t remember my mother playing the Ascension cantatas or the Ascension Oratorio on the turntable at home on this day. Instead we went for a bike ride, visit grandparents, or go camping. I didn’t know Bach’s music for Ascension Day at all until we performed BWV 11 and 43 with California Bach Society in the early 2000s. The choruses from these compositions are among the most fun I have every sung in a choir. I love the syncopated rhythms.

Here is an overview of Bach’s music for Ascension Day, as far as we know, in order of creation:

In 1724, Bach wrote Cantata 37 Wer da gläubet und getäuft wird (Whoever believes and is baptised). Listen to it here. Soloists in this recording by Ton Koopman/Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra are Sibylla Rubens, soprano; Bernhard Landauer, alto; Christoph Prégardien, tenor; and Klaus Mertens, bass.

In 1725, as part of the series of cantatas on texts by Christiane Mariane von Ziegler, Bach wrote Cantata 128 Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein (On Christ’s ascension alone). Listen to it here. Soloists on this live recording by John Eliot Gardiner/English Baroque Soloists are Lenneke Ruiten, soprano; Meg Bragle, mezzo soprano; Andrew Tortise, tenor; and Dietrich Henschel, bass. Find my blog post from 2018 about this cantata, which includes a different recording by Gardiner here.

The last Bach cantata we have for this holiday is from 1726: Cantata 43 Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen (God ascends with shouts of joy). Listen to it here. Soloists in this live recording by Rudolf Lutz/J.S. Bach Foundation are Miriam Feuersinger, soprano; Annekathrin Laabs, alto; Charles Daniels, tenor; and Wolf Matthias Friedrich, bass.

Nine years later, Bach wrote his Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11 Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen (Praise God in His kingdoms), incorrectly labeled as a cantata in the 19th century. Bach might have been inspired by the Christmas Oratorio he had written only five months before that.

On that Ascension Day, Thursday, May 19, 1735, this oratorio was performed in the morning service in the St. Nicholas Church, and again in the afternoon service in the St. Thomas Church. Watch the wonderful opening chorus here in a live performance by Philippe Herreweghe/Collegium Vocale Gent from 2014 from the Chapelle de la Trinité in Lyon, France. Or listen to the entire oratorio by Philippe Herreweghe/Collegium Vocale Gent on a CD recording from 1993 here. Soloists on that 1993 recording are Barbara Schlick, soprano; Catherine Patriasz, alto; Christoph Prégardien, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass.

Wieneke Gorter, May 13, 2021.

Good Shepherd Sunday and Memories of visiting Ravenna

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The Good Shepherd, mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, 1st half of the 5th century

In the early summer of 2018, my husband, my kids, and me had the good fortune to be able to visit Italy for the first time in our lives. When I was growing up, we usually went to France in the summer vacation, as was normal for families from the Netherlands. I did have Latin in high school, but our class was very small, and trips to Rome where not the norm at that school. In college, I had somehow missed the choir tour to Italy, and had “only” gone on the ones to Spain (three times) and Portugal. So it was a very special treat to me to finally be able to go to Italy, and see several of the art works in real life.

After three relaxing days in the mountains and three wonderful days in Venice, we traveled on to Ravenna. I had gone back and forth about including Ravenna in the itinerary. Would we want yet another stop? Was it worth it to have less time in Umbria as a result of the extra night in Ravenna?

In Venice, we had learned that visiting tourist attractions at 5 pm or later was the best way to avoid the busloads of tourists. So on the morning we left Venice, I emailed the guide in Ravenna I had been corresponding with in the weeks before that we might still want to visit the mosaics with her between 5 and 7 pm, if she was still free. If I could confirm after lunch time? She was fine with that. (Later we learned that the busiest time for the tour guides in Ravenna is the school year, when all the Italian kids come to learn about this important time and place in Italian (art) history, and that most of them are more flexible in the summer).

At 10:30 am, we did a reverse commute on the ferry from the Zattere in Venice’s Dorsoduro neighborhood to Fusina on the mainland, where our rental car had been parked for three nights. We drove to Chioggia and ate a delightful seafood lunch at a no-frills restaurant at the harbor there. Then we confirmed our time with the guide and drove the extremely boring road to Ravenna, still wondering if all this was worth it.

But our visit to the mosaics with the guide was one of the best and most peaceful experiences we had that entire vacation. There was no line at the ticket office, the mosaics were stunningly beautiful, the buildings practically empty that time of day, and our guide was extremely knowledgable and fun to be with (it was hard saying good-bye to her after the two hours). All four of us cherish our memories of that visit.

The most impressive monument to all of us was the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, because of how well preserved and vibrant the mosaics in that monument are. I had been using the mosaic of Jesus as “The Good Shepherd” already twice on this blog, and it was deeply moving to me to see it there in real life. So I’m featuring it again today.

Jesus as the Good Shepherd is the theme for this Second Sunday after Easter, and it appears in all three cantatas Bach wrote for this Sunday: BWV 104 from 1724, BWV 85 from 1725, and BWV 112 from 1731. I have yet to write about Cantata 112, but have written about Cantata 104 here in 2017, and about Cantata 85 here in 2016.

Wieneke Gorter, April 17, 2021.